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Men have a crucial role to play in ending gender-based violence, and we must act now

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Men have a crucial role to play in ending gender-based violence, and we must act now

We need all those who witness violence against women to stand up.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, January 10, 2022 / APO Group / –

Despite concerted efforts to end sexual and genderbased violence, the threat continues to haunt Malawian women and girls. An unacceptably high number of women experience violence in their lifetime.

According to the most recent 2016 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, 34% of women aged 15-49 reported experiencing physical violence, 14% sexual violence, and 23% emotional violence in the previous 12-month period to the survey.

This suggests that violence is a daily experience for women and adolescent girls. They grow up violently and, all too often, with little opportunity to escape from those who bully, hurt and frighten them.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated this situation, with an increase in cases of violence, especially during school closings, with women and girls confined to their homes, and additional pressures on their family and work life.

Yet in the face of these challenges, we, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), are not intimidated by the magnitude of the problem. Rather, we are more determined than ever to confront it head-on, support the persecution of those who hurt the women and girls we serve, and protect and defend the safety, dignity and rights of the most vulnerable.

To tackle this problem, we not only need women and girls on our side, but also men and boys. We need everyone who witnesses violence against women to stand up, those who feel that women are intimidated to speak up, and for men and boys to be an integral part of finding solutions to end this violence. .

Early Role Models Are Crucial

During their formative years, girls and boys are deeply influenced by their family and social environment. In Malawi, these narratives remain anchored in inequality between women and men. As children grow, they do so in social and cultural traditions that put women at a disadvantage. Behavior that provides a distorted perception of women begins at home.

From an early age, boys are assigned so-called ‘hard’ tasks, while girls are perceived as ‘soft’ tasks, such as washing dishes, cooking and cleaning the home. These so-called soft tasks dominate women’s roles in the home and are unpaid and undervalued. More than this, the tasks consume all your time. There is no time to socialize, develop as an individual, or progress in areas like education. This loss of opportunities increases the inequality of women and girls in society.

Many people tend to perceive traditions as harmless. We now know, however, that traditions can contain many myths that reinforce inequality and even lead to toxic masculinity in boys. Often under pressure from peers, community members, or even parents, boys grow up with a false sense of superiority and power over women and girls.

In their adulthood, this makes men feel socially dominant and compelled to show their strengths and sometimes to hide their sense of insecurity or vulnerability. This lack of respect for women and girls and men’s lack of empathy with women is, in many cases, one of the main causes of sexual and gender-based violence.

Men as agents of change

The challenge ahead is not to dilute the rich traditional heritage of Malawi. However, what we must understand is that traditions are dynamic and adaptable to adapt to the periods in which they exist. Traditions that fail to adapt disappear. Those who are flexible thrive. Traditions also do not act in a vacuum and are shaped by power relations.

Changing ingrained behavior and traditions, especially in patriarchal systems, to ensure that women are no longer exposed to harmful practices is not an easy challenge. In Malawi, some customs grant a series of privileges to men and boys. Furthermore, the role of fathers is less valued despite strong evidence that children benefit from both fathers ‘and mothers’ influence.

We need to encourage men to understand their own well-being in different ways. Too often, men neglect the warning signs and indicators of their own mental and physical well-being. A key reason for this is pressure on men to present a strong, masculine image that prevents them from seeking help for fear of appearing less of a man.

I have seen men fragile and insecure because of a distorted sense of what constitutes male success and happiness. Gender stereotypes damage the way men perceive themselves and their self-esteem. In a society where men have to be aggressive to be accepted, women feel compelled to be submissive.

Both women and men deserve the right to have emotions and feelings, and they should not be ashamed or feel guilty for being ‘strong’ or ‘sensitive’.

It is not always easy to convince those who have these privileges to renounce them. But we need you to join us, not only in this fight against inequality, but also to crush this violence that women and girls experience. We ask you not only to renounce your privilege, but to actively join the growing number of men and boys who view violence as unacceptable and are willing to oppose it.

Spotlight shine a light

Violence against women is a great threat to the achievement of development goals. For Malawi to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, there is a crucial need to empower women, girls, boys and men. To do this, the violence must end. We at UNFPA, working within the United Nations family, have learned that this is not a one-size-fits-all solution, for all communities. We need multiple avenues to address sexual and gender-based violence, and we absolutely need women and men to be part of these solutions.

The United Nations and the European Union are addressing this through our Spotlight Initiative in Malawi. A key lesson we learned early on was that by including men and boys as part of the solution, and not necessarily the problem, we see immediate results.

Empowering men to speak up

In this regard, we are supporting the training of leaders on how to address sexual and gender-based violence and have created invaluable forums for honest conversations about violence, gender and masculinity, developing key strategies for communities to address the problem. Using forums like schools for husbands and fathers’ groups, we are finding unique community-driven solutions, showing that men believe that the problem should be addressed by both women and men as much as women.

Two of our male champions are Sheikh Hannaf and Senior Chief Mlomba. They are examples of men who recognize themselves as a crucial part of the solution to sexual and gender-based violence.

In Machinga, Sheikh Hannaf is at the forefront of denouncing sexual and gender-based violence. She regularly has conversations with men and boys in her community about the negative impact of violence during her visits to local mosques.

Senior Chief Mlomba is also a very active influencer in the community. Not only does it promote equality between men and women, but it has also actively worked to ban the traditions that promote these inequalities. By using his authority to annul child marriages and attack other harmful practices, he has become a leader who is a shining example to others. These men are helping to transform the behavior of their peers and children. “My challenge to all Malawian men and boys is to come and join us, speak out against sexual and gender-based violence, break the cycles of violence we are witnessing and end these harmful practices together,” Masaki Watabe , Deputy Representative, UNFPA Country Office in Malawi.

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